Help for Dogs That Become Aggressive When Startled
Being startled is a normal response when someone or something surprises you from around a corner, when someone suddenly walks through a doorway, or when you hear a scary sound. When most dogs are startled, they will jolt, bark or freeze, and then recover within a few minutes. However, there are some dogs that will panic and react by lunging forward, charging, barking and growling. These dogs have a difficult time recovering from being startled; it can take hours for them to recover. If your dog is aggressive when startled, it’s time to change her behavior.
Why Some Dogs Lunge or Charge When Startled
No one enjoys being startled; it’s scary and it can cause anxiety if it happens often. If a dog is severely startled, it can dramatically change the dog’s behavior around the thing that initially startled him.
As an example, if a strange dog startles your dog by running up to him during walks, your dog can easily become afraid of other dogs approaching. Think about it from a human perspective: If a scary clown suddenly appears in your living room, you’ll learn to dislike clowns and walk cautiously through your living room for a while.
Many anxious dogs, when startled, will charge forward, lunge, growl and even bite someone when startled. Anxiety is a key component. For some dogs, their anxiety triggers an excessive response when startled. Some dogs will react this way even when startled by their pet owners or family members. When this happens, it’s scary for everyone, including your dog. Think about it this way: Some humans react aggressively and start punching or kicking when startled while others just jump and recover quickly.
How to Change Reactive Startled Behavior
When practicing this behavior, the goal is not to startle your dog. Instead, pair something yummy with previous scary experiences slowly to change your dog’s perspective of this scary experience. Remember, when pairing good things with scary things, your dog learns that scary things make hot dogs appear.
Most dogs startle when someone walks into a room while they are sleeping. If your dog jumps up and lunges in this situation, then it’s time to change her behavior. Be prepared next time; stand sideways (face and front of body turned away from the dog) in the doorway, and softly say your dog’s name or “hello.” When your dog wakes up, toss chunks of cheese or hot dogs toward your dog. Practice this several times a week, and soon your dog will wag gently when you say “hello” or walk into a room.
When to Get Help
If your dog is anxious and has a difficult time settling down, or has hurt someone when startled, it’s time to get help. Locate a veterinary behaviorist in your area as well as a professional dog trainer who specializes in dog anxiety and only uses positive reinforcement training protocols. While your veterinarian can prescribe anxiety medication for dogs, it’s best to leave dog anxiety medication recommendations to a veterinary behaviorist.